[Marxism] The NFL's Bully Problem

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 4 20:42:47 MST 2013


The NFL's Bully Problem
Dave Zirin on November 4, 2013 - 10:06 PM E

You have to admire the chutzpah of the NFL commentariat. They are 
falling all over themselves shouting that Dolphins offensive lineman, 
and outed racist bully, Richie Incognito has “no place in the National 
Football League.” With an élan that would shame Claude Rains, they are 
shocked SHOCKED that there could possibly be bullying in the NFL. How, 
they ask, can we protect a heroic, All-American institution like pro 
football from the scourge of bullies? Won't someone please think about 
the children? Well, not the children getting bullied by football 
players, but other children. The ones who love NFL football!

The problem is that football has become as interwoven with bullying as 
corruption on Capitol Hill. As much as we may be repulsed by Richie 
Incognito and the way he treated teammate Jonathan Martin; as much as we 
all want to cluck our tongues at the news that Incognito threatened 
Martin with violence, joked [I deeply hope] about wanting to defecate in 
his mouth and slap his mother, as well as calling him a “half-n****er”, 
the easiest thing in the world would be to look at this the way the NFL 
wants us to look at it: as if we are witnessing the story of one player 
who just took the good, clean fun of rookie hazing too darn far.

This is crap. There is a stench of complicity throughout the Dolphins 
locker room, with teammates now reflexively defending Incognito at every 
turn. I spoke with former Baltimore Colt Joe Ehrmann, a man who has 
dedicated his life to using football to teach principles of social 
justice (yeoman’s work, but Joe makes you believe it’s possible). The 
first thing Joe said to me was, “What about the ‘bystanders’ who knew, 
watched, and did nothing? If this was happening, they all knew plus I 
would guess some of the coaches as well as others. Seems to me that 
there is a lack of moral courage and moral clarity by many on that team. 
Hazing like homophobia, gender violence - all common themes in hyper 
masculinity worlds - won't end until we raise up generation of men 
willing to stand up and speak out.”

Joe, who has mentored NFL players for decades. is absolutely correct. 
The villain in this story is not only Incognito but a culture in 
football, starting at the top, that behind closed doors extols players 
like him whose role is to police the “softness” of his younger teammates.

In the NFL, for far too long the ideal man has been a big, nasty bastard 
who affects an persona of being mean as hell and impervious to pain. Any 
dent in this armor of projected hyper-masculinist power - like admitting 
to depression, expressing concern for LGBT or women’s rights, or even 
sitting out a play - is to be in violation of the code.

This kind of code does not only produce generations of muscled men who 
don’t know how to relate to women outside of a strip club. It creates a 
caste of people inside the locker room who charge themselves with 
policing their teammates. Enter Richie Incognito, locker room cop. As 
one personnel man swooned, Richie is  "tough as nails. The kind of guy 
you'd want to be in a bar fight with.”

When the story first broke, and all we knew was that Martin was accusing 
Incognito of bullying, the NFL powers-that-be were sickened by Martin’s 
lack of toughness. According to Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter, the 
view off the record of every NFL personnel man he spoke with was, 
"Instead of being a man and confronting him, Martin acted like a coward 
and told like a kid."

However, once the public outrage exploded when the content of the 
bullying became public, it was time to treat Incognito like an outlier 
and a loose end, to be held-up and then cut off. Very typical of the 
response was that by  “Iron” Mike Ditka, the former Bears coach who has 
made a lucrative living by being a public face of the kind of idealized 
machismo Richie Incognito was conditioned to emulate. Ditka said that 
the way he would have handled Incognito would have been to "take him to 
fist city."

But what if Martin believed that fighting the 300-pound Incognito would 
end up with him in the hospital? What if he believed that it wouldn’t 
solve anything but just create more problems? What if he believed that 
the Miami Dolphins constituted a workplace, not a frat house or 
schoolyard, and that he did not have to play by Incognito’s rules? What 
if Mike Ditka and his ilk cannot understand that maybe, just maybe, 
“manhood” might mean  blowing the lid on racist harassment as opposed to 
getting into a fist fight like a child?

The villains in this story may include more people than just Richie 
Incognito. But the hero is Jonathan Martin who had the courage to treat 
this like the workplace issue that it is, break the jock code of 
silence, and demand that he should not have to deal with this crap. In 
the process, Jonathan Martin is giving football, a crash course in what 
manhood actually looks like when practiced by an honest-to-god grown-up.

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